Anna is sixteen and is from Eritrea. Her parents decided it was too dangerous for her to stay in Eritrea and borrowed as much money as they could for her to flee to safety. She was brought to the UK by an agent and claimed asylum. Her claim was refused and she was denied the right of appeal as the Home Office wrongly believe she is from Ethiopia and is much older than she claims. Anna is without accommodation and support, and spends several nights sleeping in night-buses and in a phone box. Eventually, Anna is able to access a legal aid lawyer who helps her to challenge the social services age assessment which wrongly says she is an adult. As a result, her local authority provide her with accommodation and support. Anna is also able to obtain new evidence confirming she is from Eritrea, and her legal aid lawyer submits a new asylum claim for her, resulting in refugee status.
Without legal aid, Anna would have remained a homeless sixteen-year-old, destitute and highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. If the current proposals are implemented, children and young people like Anna will not be able to access legal aid for these things, except while an initial asylum claim is ongoing.
Nadia and her mother arrived in the UK seven months ago to join Nadia’s father, a British citizen. Soon after their arrival, Nadia’s father becomes abusive to Nadia and her mother, and Nadia is taken in to the care of the local authority. Nadia’s mother is able to leave her husband and desperately wants Nadia to be returned to her care. Nadia also wants to be reunited permanently with her mother. Under the current proposals, only Nadia and her father could be represented under legal aid in proceedings to determine who should care for Nadia. Nadia’s mother would not be eligible for legal aid to represent her in court. Nadia’s mother would have to prepare her case herself, regardless of her level of English and legal knowledge, and present her arguments herself to the judge.
Children and young people in the criminal justice system need access to defence lawyers whom they trust and who are specialised in representing young people. The proposed changes to contracts for criminal legal aid work will dramatically reduce the quality of criminal defence work and the availability of specialist representation for young people. Prison legal aid contracts will only be given to criminal defence firms with a crime legal aid contract, meaning that many firms and organisations which specialise in prison law for young people will be unable to continue work. The type of prison law work which can be carried out under legal aid will be significantly reduced, meaning children and young people in the criminal justice system will be unable to access legal aid to secure adequate accommodation and support for their release.